The Prudential Center was great. The opening ceremony was what you would expect from the Devils - very basic and fitting. The section where you could write your name on a puck was cool. The view was awesome, the food was overpriced as expected, the Devils Den team merchandise store was sweet, and the only major complaint I would have are the bottleneck-like entrances in getting into the arena proper.
The game itself, well, that was not great. Sure, the first period by the Devils was fantastic aside from the finishing. The second period wasn't too bad, considering the Devils tied it up on a power play goal and it ended 1-1.
But the third period, the Devils broke. The main key being focus. The Senators were absolutely focused when on defense for the entire game. If a Devil got into the slot, a Senator was right there to either close him down or knock him down (without a call, of course). If a Senator was in the slot, the Devils just let him do whatever he wanted no matter how many Devils defenders were in the area. The first goal allowed was off a screen in the slot, the second and third goals came off Senators picking up rebounds (I think) after getting into the slot without a problem. The fourth, well, that was an empty net goal; but you understand my point. The Senators remained focused on defense all night long and forced the Devils to take poor shots, they blocked shots, they didn't allow many rebounds, etcetera, &c. The Devils did not and that was enough for the Senators - namely Shean Donovan and Mike -to pounce on the puck for the goals. It's that simple.
Further compounding this is the fact that the Devils again did not play well for the entire game. Again, they were absolutely fantastic in the first period and the fact that they tied it up in the second was remarkable. But in the third period, the Devils did not play with the same amount of intensity and it showed regardless of their last ditch offensive maneuvers. Most of it is on the players - I'm very confident that head coach Brent Sutter is not telling the defense to just let the Senators forwards get in the slot to do what they want. However, for the offense, the Devils constantly dumped the puck in Ottawa's zone and chased all night. In the first period and at other times, this was successful - and necessary at times. But the Senators eventually figured it out and later dump-ins did not lead to fortunate turnovers leading to sustained Devils' offensive pressure. The Senators simply cleared the puck out into the neutral zone on the other side of the rink. When you put 32 shots on net against the team with the best record in the league, you know it's working to a point. Yet, the only goal the Devils did score was not a dump-and-chase; Patrik Elias (aside: who had a very good game, hustling all night long, hitting guys, putting the puck on net, etc.) fired it from Martin Gerber's left side and Brian Gionta put home a rebound. The Devils need to mix it up when the other team figures out what they've been doing. It's not the reason why the Devils lost, but I think it was a contributing factor and a significant reason (outside of Gerber playing really well in net) why the offense only resulted in one goal.
The first quote in the AP's recap of the game on NHL.com yields the proper conclusion:
"We need to start figuring out ways to win games," Gionta said. "There's no excuses: road trip, new arena; we've just got to win. We're not playing 60 minutes. That's the theme of the first 10 games."
That's exactly right. The focus, the intensity, and the effort needs to be there for all three periods. In almost every one of the last ten games, the Devils have played well for only a part of it. Now is the time where they need to put it together for the whole game. Hopefully, Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning will be that first full 60-minute game by the Devils.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, Devils Issues, Prudential Center